In his 45-minute-long State of the City speech last month, Mayor Ed Murray spent a fair amount of time hyping the city's commitment to transportation choices, including biking, buses, carpools—and streetcars.
Specifically, Murray highlighted the need to connect the First Hill streetcar, currently under construction, to the South Lake Union streetcar, which ends at Westlake. The new streetcar connector would likely run along First Avenue between the north end of downtown and Pioneer Square.
"When completed, these streetcars will carry more than 31,000 daily riders and will connect South Lake Union, the Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square, the International District, the new Yesler Terrace, First Hill and Capitol Hill with trains as frequent as every 5 minutes," Murray said in his speech.
Last week, however, city council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen cast a shadow over Murray's vow to complete the First Hill-to-South Lake Union streetcar line, telling PubliCola that although he isn't opposed, in theory, to building a downtown streetcar connector, he also isn't convinced that a streetcar is the best use of very limited transportation dollars.
"I am very cautious about [the streetcar]," Rasmussen said. "I think estimates for completing it are at least $100 million. Is that the best use of $100 million? I’m not opposed to the streetcar—the question is where can they be most effective. I want to make sure the mayor is doing a cost-benefit analysis."
We asked Murray for his reaction to Rasmussen's lukewarm comments about the streetcar connector. Here's what he had to say.
I think it’s important, always, to emphasize that the workhorses of our transit system are the buses, period, and I do agree with him on that. Secondly, my hope is to reorganize the transportation department and our transportation policy, so that we are not mode-focused, and so that we look at the most efficient way to move people and goods through a corridor.
At the same time, we have build a South Lake Union streetcar with ridership 30 percent higher than estimated. And we are building a streetcar to the First Hill area that really starts in Pioneer Square. I think we have already committed to the streetcar system and I think this is a piece that should be built out.
Having said that, we have to prioritize and decide what we’re going to do and in what order, given [limited] transit financing. And while I believe the city’s willing to pay for additional transit, I think we have to go through a process of deciding when that streetcar should happen versus when a beefed-up bus system should happen, and how those things work with each other.
I do think at some point the city would want to connect the streetcars. There are also advantages in terms of development. We want downtown to be more of a neighborhood. ... Ultimately, we have to develop an integrated transportation plan and figure out how all those separate plans that we’re developing work with one another.